Penn State basketball: No getting around it, losing Micah Shrewsberry counts as a gut-punch
He seemed to be having so much fun.
He appeared to be falling in love with the Penn State community, and vice versa, as he guided a group of seeming misfits into a cohesive unit that notched the men’s basketball program’s first NCAA Tournament win in 22 years.
Surely, Micah Shrewsberry was just getting started in State College. Surely, the 2nd-year coach would stick around to see things through, to build a program that could reach March Madness on the regular, rather than once a decade.
But now reports have the 46-year-old on the verge of officially accepting Notre Dame’s offer to replace Mike Brey and take on another fixer-upper of a program. As he told David Jones of PennLive/the Harrisburg Patriot News, Shrewsberry couldn’t resist the pull of his home state, where “basketball is a religion.”
Good for Shrewsberry. Bad for Penn State.
Can’t fault the decision
You can’t fault Shrewsberry for returning home to Indiana, where he’s spent a good deal of his basketball life as a player and coach. You can’t fault him for choosing a school with a richer basketball history than Penn State, even if Notre Dame has no NCAA Tournament titles and hasn’t reached the Final Four since 1978. The Irish at least play in the Big Dance, having made 36 of them — the record for appearances without a title.
At age 74, Brey is out after 23 seasons in South Bend.
After only 2 seasons as a D-1 head coach, Shrewsberry is parlaying 1 magical ride made possible by the transfer portal into a 7-year deal with a storied program, replacing its winningest coach. Heady stuff. But Shrewsberry isn’t an overnight success. Far from it. He’s paid his dues and earned a reputation as an X’s and O’s guy under Brad Stevens and current Purdue coach Matt Painter. At both the Big Ten and NBA levels, he’s proved to be one heck of a wingman. And this year, he’s proven himself as a motivator and orchestrator in the first chair.
The man can flat-out coach, and Penn State is going to miss him. That’s why AD Pat Kraft, according to reports, put together a strong package to try to convince Shrewsberry to stay. But Notre Dame has things to offer beyond money that can’t be assured in Happy Valley. even with the Irish coming off a stretch of 5 seasons with only 1 NCAA Tournament appearance.
This sets the Lions back
This is a gut-punch in the quest for perennial relevance in men’s hoops. The very idea wasn’t even on the radar until the Lions went on a run of 8 wins in 9 games to reach the B1G Tournament final and earn a 10-seed in the real postseason.
Unlike Notre Dame, Penn State has made the NCAA Tournament only 10 times. And even if you’re 57 years old, you’ve only been alive to see 5 of those.
Shrewsberry seemed capable of fixing things, both by finding gems in the portal and recruiting. Even at that, it was going to be a slow build. This season ginned up some long dormant passion, and got the Bryce Jordan Center rocking on a couple of occasions. But truth be told, it was an anomaly. The real work was just beginning.
The team lost its top 5 players the moment the final horn sounded in the Round of 32 loss to Texas. Of the 5 seniors who keyed this 23-14 season, only Seth Lundy has a year of eligibility remaining — and he isn’t going to use it. The returning players will be extremely young and inexperienced.
The program will need to scour the transfer portal again, and had targeted a key potential addition recently. But will any such players remain interested once Shrewsberry gets a driver’s license and a mortgage 2 states away? Will any of this season’s 5-member freshman class — which ranked 27th in the country and 5th in the Big Ten according to 247sports’ composite rankings — follow Shrewsberry to Notre Dame?
Next season’s class seems sure to lose at least 1 of its 3 members. Braeden Shrewsberry, a 6-2, 3-star shooting guard, probably has played his last game in State College for the high school of the same name. Carey Booth, a 6-9 4-star power forward, could remain committed, seeing as he’s a legacy — son of former Nittany Lion and NBA big man Calvin Booth.
The ball is in Kraft’s hands. Penn State seems to be enjoying an all-sports renaissance under the new AD, who took over the job from Sandy Barbour less than a year ago. The wrestlers just won another national title, men’s volleyball is ranked No. 1, football will open next season in the top 10. Hockey, baseball (12-5) and softball (18-4) are legit. I could go on.
Kraft has hit the ground running, talking up PSU to various media outlets, insisting he’ll figure out what needs to happen in every arena, including NIL.
Now he’s on the clock for his biggest move to date. Can he find the next Micah Shrewsberry? Or bring a big-name basketball coach to State College for the first time ever?
Several of the key outgoing players — Jalen Pickett, Andrew Funk, Myles Dread and Camren Wynter — called for Kraft to promote associate head coach Adam Fisher, a 2006 PSU grad. “Don’t overthink it,” Funk said in a tweet.
Don’t overthink it, Adam Fisher is the man for the job @PennStateMBB
— Andrew Funk (@andrewfunk11) March 22, 2023
But Kraft can’t underthink it, either.
He’ll have to balance haste with due diligence, because time is of the essence. If Penn State is to avoid having basketball fall right back into the abyss, it needs to keep the momentum going. It’ll take a great hire to maintain the buzz Shrewsberry somehow created. Otherwise, it’ll be 2033 or later before the Lions dance again.